Thursday, April 9, 2020
Trek Watch: Star Trek - Generations (1994) & First Contact (1996)
Watched: 04/06 and 04/07/2020
Format: Amazon Streaming
Viewing: Third? Second?
Director: David Carson/ Jonathan Frakes
I still remember walking out of Star Trek: Generations (1994) and roughly saying "what the @#$% was that?"
A cheap looking movie with a singularly ridiculous end for one of my childhood fictional heroes, and a ludicrous A plot that went nowhere, meshed with a B plot that only Data got to experience. It genuinely just felt like a very expensive episode or three of the series that spawned it - but not even a particularly brilliant episode or arc.
The movie isn't quite as rough as I remember, but it does still feel remarkably low-budget, lumped in with other genre pictures in the B category while studios were simultaneously pumping untold millions into off-brand sci-fi that would bring us epics like Independence Day. Heck, for reference, the budget on this movie was maybe $25 million and Mars Attacks, two years later, was $70 million.
You can even tell they're just using sets and costumes from the TV show. It's wild. For a launch-vehicle for an all-new generation of films with beloved characters, you could absolutely tell Paramount was just kind of embarrassed about the whole affair.
Look, in 1994, geeks were still geeks. Star Trek was a household brand name, but it was also synonymous with smelly nerds. My guess is that the folks at Paramount probably didn't love the idea of dealing with this kind of nerd-tastic thing to begin with, and then Star Trek had and has so many weird ownership issues... what stake did they really want to put into something that seemed niche and unappealing to the masses? Then the thing made over $115 million as every dad in the world raced to the theaters for theatrical Trek.
As always, of course, Patrick Stewart is terrific, finding the humanity in Picard's journey, and the writers try to give him something to work with in the loss of his brother and nephew. Whoopie Goldberg's appearance as Guinan hits squarely. And I can't fault anything Spiner does as Data explores his character's new "emotion chip". It's all solid acting - something this cast always had going for it. Minus some of the guest stars.
Malcolm McDowell is good! He just... doesn't matter. His motivations are absurd, his scheme more so and contradictory to what we heard previously about the seductive power of the Nexus and how one winds up there. He's just some guy and he kinda kills Kirk, who just met him 3 minutes prior.
In fact, that third reel of the film barely hang together as Kirk dies from metal fatigue and iffy plotting. And gets buried under a pile of rocks on a planet he hadn't seen til 10 minutes before. The crash-landing of the NCC-1701D just kinda looks like someone threw a toy of the Enterprise at a model train set and filmed it at 100 fps. And it's not, by far, the worst thing the Enterprise has experienced, but for movie reasons, this is what takes it down. Five minutes after they let Will Riker take the Captain's chair. Poor Will.
First Contact (1996) had a better budget and made more money. It's also got a new story with an old foe, ties to Trek lore and opportunities for the cast to do more - even Dr. Crusher. It's got a balanced three-way split for the cast as Picard deals with his issues related to the Borg, Data explores humanity and bangs royalty, and the rest of the cast goes to 21st Century Nerd Fantasy Camp with James Cromwell.
The movie pretty well manages to balance humor, action, light body horror, character drama and Deanna Troi getting trashed.
All in all, it's hard to find fault with First Contact, really. It flows naturally from the television show and feels bigger, while also really getting into some character stuff for our fearless Captain. The Borg don't *really* make a lot of logical sense, but they are an interesting existential threat, and I'm glad the new Picard series seems to be challenging some of our assumptions about the Borg from seeds planted (intentionally or otherwise) from this film, Voyager and other shows. Adding a Queen kinda sorta made sense, but in the way she showed up...? Eh. I'll accept it, I guess.
It's also the introduction of the Enterprise E, which is a great design. Full Stop.
My memory is that the next movie is... not as good. So. We'll see.